Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/249

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of justice, duty, morality, formed the foundation upon which the political theories of the Middle Ages had been constructed. The reasoning from final causes was almost universal. So long as these primary postulates were not revised, speculation trod and re-trod the same confined area. What Machiavelli did, was to shift the basis of political science and, consequently, to emancipate the State from ecclesiastical thraldom. Henceforward, the fictions of the Realists, which had controlled the forms of medieval thought in nearly all departments, were set aside; the standard was to be no philosophic summum bonum, nor was the sic volo of authority to silence enquiry or override argument. An appeal was to be made to history and reason; the publicist was to investigate, not to invent,—to record, not to anticipate,—the laws which appear to govern men's actions. Machiavelli's method of reasoning was a challenge to existing authority, and was believed to entail the disqualification, at least in politics, of the old revealed law of God, in favour either of a restored and revised form of natural law, or at any rate of some new law which man might elicit, independently of God, from the accumulated records of human activity. The Prince was the first great work in which the two authorities, the Divine and the human, were clearly seen in collision, and in which the venerable axioms of earlier generations were rejected as practically misleading, and theoretically unsound. The simplicity and directness of its trenchant appeal to common experience and to the average intelligence won for the book a recognition never accorded to Machiavelli's other works.

In The Prince the discussion of the methods, by which a "new prince" might consolidate his power, developed into a contribution towards a new conception of the State. The book not only furnished a summary of the means by which, in the circumstances then existing, the redemption of Italy might be accomplished; but, inasmuch as the conditions of life repeat themselves and the recurrence of similar crises in the future was always possible, recommendations, primarily directed to the solution of an immediately pressing difficulty, were enlarged in scope, and came to have the intention of supplying in some measure and with perhaps some minor reservations a law of political action in all times. Beneath the special rules and maxims new principles were latent, and, though obscured occasionally by the form in which they are expressed, they can be disengaged without serious difficulty.

Machiavelli, though his sympathies were republican, knew that the times required the intervention of a despot. He had no hesitation in deciding the relative merits, in the abstract, of the democratic and the monarchical forms of government: "the rule of a people is better than that of a prince." When the problem was, not how to establish a new government in the face of apparently overwhelming obstacles, but only how to carry on what was already well instituted, a republic would be found far more serviceable than a monarchy; "while a prince is superior